The Emergence of … Strip Cards?

Prices for Hall of Famers and big names in strip cards sets are doing quite well, thank you very much

W512 Strip Tris SpeakerStrip cards are often an area of degradation for a lot of collectors. Many won’t touch them and even those that do collect them are hesitant to pay too much. They are usually cheaper issues and often highlighted in lists of a player’s more affordable cards.

Don’t get me wrong. Strip cards are still among a player’s most inexpensive cards. But what seems to be going somewhat under the radar here is that prices for many are steadily increasing.

Cards for players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Shoeless Joe Jackson have risen sharply over the years, and their strip cards are no different.

As little as a few years ago, Babe Ruth strip cards in several sets were often starting in the $400-$600 range. That price hasn’t quite doubled across the board but it’s getting close. These days, those same issues seem to start around $700-$1,000.

The same can be said for other players, too. Shoeless Joe Jackson, for example, has seen his cards rise dramatically. Using PSA’s card tracker, we see that a PSA 4 of his popular W514 strip card sold in 2013 for just over $1,350. A PSA 2 a few years before that sold for about $1,525. Those prices, of course, should probably be reversed. But the idea is that you could buy a half decent Jackson in the $1,300-$1,500 range before. Now? Even Authentic grade Jacksons are selling for $1,500 or more like this one did.

Another thing I’m noticing in terms of pricing trends with strip cards is that premiums are being paid for cards that ‘look’ nice. This certainly is no different than in years past but it’s worth noting in this context: Collectors can find bargains on the premium players where they may have otherwise been priced out.

W514 002 RuthCase in point. I’m collecting the W512 and W513 strip card sets. The two big ones are Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb (both found in W512). Cobbs in decent shape in the W512 set mostly start in the $300-$400 range. But ones with poor cuts sometimes sell for less. That isn’t always the case, as evidenced by this one missing a big chunk of the card, which fetched $400. But I have seen some of those go for closer to $200 and I paid about that much for mine, which has a similar flaw. The same can be said for other players, too. If the prices of strip cards today are scaring you off, that’s something to keep in mind.

Despite rising prices on the stars, I wouldn’t say all strip cards are up all over the place. I’m buying these with some degree of regularity and still find plenty of good deals on commons and lesser players. Commons are certainly up from what they were, say, 20 years ago, obviously. But a lot of them don’t seem to draw too much interest. Particularly, I’ve seen good deals on lots and it isn’t too uncommon to find low-grade strips that have been cut poorly for only a few bucks. Similarly, not all strip issues are on the rise. Some, like the W560 set, or others where uncut sheets aren’t entirely scarce, have not seen similar jumps in value.

But I do think there’s a noticeable shift in strip cards for the biggest players and other Hall of Famers. And that, of course, sort of goes along with the general rise we’re seeing in pre-war cards for those players in general. The strip card phenomenon, though, is interesting in that so many collectors have steered clear of those types of cards before. I don’t know that they’be become popular, per se, and they certainly aren’t on par with tobacco and candy cards. But it is interesting that they have been on the rise with everything else given how they have been ignored by many collectors in the past.

In addition to the idea that all pre-war cards are just going up in general, I think another reason for the increased values on strip cards is that collectors are starting to get priced out of other sets. The move to strip cards, for some, has no doubt been a reluctant transition. For example, a low-grade Ty Cobb T206 card several years ago was in the $500-$750 range. Today, that’s virtually doubled. Same goes for things like Babe Ruth 1930s Goudey cards. Collectors seeking cards of Ruth and Cobb that can’t afford those prices will turn to cheaper issues like strips — which in turns increases demand and pricing for those.

I don’t know if we’ll see strip card prices come back down or not. But for now, prices for the biggest stars are definitely healthy ones.

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